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Task 2. Give examples from the text of typically national behavior. What’s your opinion?
Slowly they entered the room in ones and twos, anxiously looking for familiar faces. Some took refuge in intense conversation to avoid the searching eyes of strangers. Others were preoccupied rearranging papers.
The Scandinavians were the first to arrive, conspicuous in their plaid jackets and open-necked shirts. Exactly on the stroke of nine o’clock the Germans entered, debating with their Austrian colleagues. The US participants followed, introducing themselves to everyone they passed.
Then two hesitant figures in dark, their formal handshakes unmistakably betraying them as the British representatives. The seats around the circle of tables were almost filled and the buzz of polite conversation began falling off when the Italian participants , dressed in fine tailored suits, were the last to arrive.
The group of managing and marketing directors from nine national subsidiaries of a large international company had gathered in a European capital city for a three-day meeting with a dual purpose.
Their primary task was to draw up a pan-European marketing strategy to exploit the EC’s single market. The meeting was also seen as an opportunity for the executives to learn about working within a multicultural team.
As with many multicultural groups, the first difficulties emerged over the language. The meeting was conducted in English, but not all the participants were equally fluent or confident about expressing themselves. Not surprisingly, native English speakers dominated the early discussions. Impatient with the time it took others to formulate their views, British and US participants frequently interrupted the long periods of silent contemplation with even more suggestions of their own. To construct coherent arguments in a non-native language takes time and requires concentration.
The use of only one language was the most obvious barrier to multicultural teamworking. As the first working session progressed, however, the comments made and ideas proposed revealed how unconscious cultural bias and corporate myths dominated the participants’ thinking.
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French executives argued for their proposal, since it was manifestly the most logical. No, said the Germans, their approach should be endorsed because it was technically superior and had a proven track record. No one gave serious consideration to the Danish approach. The ideas produced by the Italians were seen as elegant but impractical.
The members of this multicultural team, brought together for the first time, reacted like all human beings: in the absence of more reliable information, they made liberal use of preconceived stereotypes about the nations they did not know. Or where they had some experience, they generalized by using one past incident to predict the behavior of that nationality. This multicultural team was obviously taking refuge in simplistic stereotypes and over-generalisations.
To address this obstacle to effective team working, time was taken to learn about the characteristic behavior of the nations present. Each national group had to act as informants on their own culture, and each group heard how their cultural behavior influenced the perceptions and attitudes of others.
This activity produced much laughter. The linear, time-conscious Northern Europeans discovered the mysteries of their Latin colleagues’ flexible approach to time and capacity to deal with several projects simultaneously. The Anglo-Saxons learned about alternatives to adversarial relationships in industry from the consensus-orientated Scandinavian managers. Each group explored the emphasis it placed upon personal relationships in getting things done, cultural preferences for long-term outcomes and the importance attached to being liked, a theme that proved sensitive to many of the executives.
Many significant messages and difficult observations were delivered in jest and mimicry throughout the remainder of the meeting. But all the participants acknowledged the pain of learning, and the importance of more accurate perceptions in putting together a draft marketing strategy.
Yes, they agreed, it might need more work, but their future efforts would be less likely to be side-tracked by superficial differences of culture.
Task 3. Answer the questions:
1. Why did representatives of the multicultural team gather for a three-day meeting? What countries were present at the meeting?
2. What barriers to effective teamwork were evident?
3. What conclusions did the participants come to?
4. What factors do you think contribute to effective work in a multinational team?
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